AINsight: ASAP Embraces Partnerships To Improve Safety

 - January 17, 2019, 1:04 PM

Over the past two months in this space, I’ve laid out a roadmap for business aviation operators to improve safety by following the course set by the airlines. In the previous blogs, I’ve touched on flight data monitoring (FDM/FOQA) and line operations safety audits (LOSA). Now, this journey will end with a look at the aviation safety action program (ASAP), the last of the “big three” voluntary safety programs.

In business aviation, an ASAP is by far the most widely embraced voluntary safety program. In fact, by sheer numbers, there are now more Part 91/135 operators participating in an ASAP than Part 121 airlines. This overwhelming success can be attributed, almost exclusively, to the Air Charter Safety Foundation (ACSF) and its organizational-based ASAP. Since the program's inception less than six years ago, the ACSF has signed up nearly 120 business aviation operators into its ASAP.

The ACSF-ASAP was originally designed to ease ASAP implementation for Part 135 charter operators. In recent years, however, the program has exploded and now Part 91 operators make up just over half of all the participants. According to ACSF president Bryan Burns, “The program is structured so ACSF, not the FAA or the operator, shoulders 90 percent of the administrative burden. In all respects, it’s a win-win for all parties involved.”

An ASAP is a partnership between the FAA and a company and its employees. It provides an avenue for voluntarily reporting and mitigating safety issues in a non-jeopardy environment. According to FAA Advisory Circular (AC) 120-66B, the main objective of the ASAP is to encourage employees to voluntarily report safety information that may be critical to identifying potential precursors to accidents. The FAA has determined that identifying these precursors is essential to further reducing the already low accident rate. Under an ASAP, safety issues are resolved through corrective action rather than through punishment or discipline. “The whole premise behind the ACSF-ASAP is determining the root cause of errors and mistakes without the fear of retribution from the company or FAA,” said Burns.

Understanding that the current guidance material is outdated, the FAA has a draft AC 120-66C out for industry comment. The update, in the works for several years, is designed to make the program more flexible and less prescriptive for certain operations. Likewise, the new ASAP guidance will more closely align with the FAA’s compliance philosophy and place more emphasis on the program as a partnership.

One additional benefit of an ASAP is that it supports an organization’s safety management system (SMS) by reinforcing the concept of a reporting safety culture. In safety circles, a reporting culture is one step closer to nirvana by allowing employees to freely identify hazards or safety concerns through safety reporting. Burns adds, “Filing an ACSF-ASAP report provides crewmembers with immunity from the FAA for inadvertent, or unintentional, violations of the regulations to encourage people to speak up when something goes wrong.” These ASAP concepts work—90 percent of the ACSF-ASAP reports are considered “sole-source,” which means outside of ASAP no one would have ever been aware of these issues had there been no report filed.

According to the ACSF, the big hitters or safety issues identified in its ASAP program are like those experienced by air carriers. These include altitude deviations, course and speed deviations, and other procedural items such as logbook or paperwork issues. 

The uptake and acceptance of ASAP into the business aviation community is very impressive. Of the big-three safety programs, ASAP is probably the easiest for an operator to implement. Personally, I’ve always considered an ASAP as the “entry level” program to get operators hooked on more complex programs such as FDM or LOSA. For the busines aircraft operator interested in establishing an ASAP, the ACSF offers a turnkey program—in four easy steps, that operator can then begin working on making improvements and enhancing safety. As Burns suggested, “Being forthright and honest leads to better procedures, better training…and helps prevent the same mistakes from being repeated. That makes the operating environment safer for everyone.”

Pilot, safety expert, consultant, and aviation journalist Kipp Lau writes about flight safety and airmanship for AIN. He can be reached at stuart.lau3@gmail.com